On 6 November, Americans will go to the polls for the first time since they elected Donald Trump in 2016. In these midterm elections, voters will decide which party controls the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The midterm elections are often viewed as a referendum on the performance of the sitting president, but current polling suggests these elections will be much more than that: they may also provide evidence of a fundamental shift in attitudes towards gender politics as a result of the #MeToo movement.
CNN’s official projection based on current polling data indicates that the Democrats will win 226 seats in the House of Representatives, meaning they will take back control of one half of Congress. This is significant as it would allow Democrats to push their legislative agenda in the lower house – including, possibly, introducing articles of impeachment against President Trump.
It may seem as though this outcome can be chalked up to any one of the controversial decisions President Trump has made since he was elected in 2016, but the data tells a different story. A close look at the polling data shows that there is in fact a very specific reason that Democrats stand to take back the House: as a demographic, women voters are turning away from Trump in droves.
In 2016, many speculated that the tape of Trump bragging about grabbing women “by the pussy” would be the nail in the coffin of his presidential bid. But we were wrong. 53% of women voted for Trump in 2016. It seemed that candidate Trump’s alleged behaviour towards women was not a high priority for these voters.
But the world has changed since 2016. The #MeToo movement has brought sexual assault and harassment to the forefront of our collective political imaginations. While the idea of #MeToo was first conceived in 2006, it resurfaced in 2017 as a tidal wave of allegations of sexual misconduct against high-profile men were uncovered.
The chorus of women speaking up about sexual assault and harassment has led to charges being laid against Harvey Weinstein and has cast long shadows over the careers of men like comedian Louis CK and actor Kevin Spacey. So it’s clear that the movement has had an effect on some individual perpetrators, but has it changed the way we think about gender issues more generally?
Midterm polling suggests that the answer is yes. If Democrats win back control of the House, it will be because women voters have changed their mind about Trump. Current polling predicts that Democrats will hold a 22-point lead over Republicans across the board – this is the widest gender gap in any midterm election on record.
This phenomenon became clear in June of this year and has been remarkably consistent in every poll conducted since then. Not only are polls showing that women who previously voted independent, or didn’t vote at all, are now planning on voting for Democrats; the data also shows that a significant number of women who have consistently voted Republican will vote Democratic on November 6. It is unusual for a demographic of voters to swing this significantly, and this consistently, from one party to the other in only two years.
The effect of this demographic shift cannot be underestimated: it has put a substantial number of Republican-held seats back in play for the midterms. In key seats that are now up for grabs, the demographic shift is even more considerable among white, college-educated women.
Black women, the majority of whom voted for Clinton in 2016, have also significantly increased their support for the Democrats in recent months. A remarkable 98% of black women voted for Democratic candidate Doug Jones in Alabama’s recent special election after allegations of sexual misconduct were made against his opponent Roy Moore. This led to a Democratic win in a seat that has been safely Republican for twenty years.
The heightened political salience of gender issues arguably came to a head during the recent Senate hearings of Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. During the nomination process, Dr Christine Blasey Ford came forward with allegations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh was confirmed despite Ford’s allegations and will now sit on the highest court in the United States.
It seems reasonable to suspect that women voters were not happy with the outcome and that this has contributed to the historic gender gap we are seeing in 2018. When asked what their key concerns were in terms of deciding how to vote in the midterms, 85% of voters put the Supreme Court at or near the top of their lists.
So while Trump’s poor record on gender issues did not keep him out of the White House in 2016, it seems the tide has turned. No-one accounted for the meteoric rise of #MeToo, and it looks as though this may well be the reason President Trump will lose control of the House of Representatives.
November 6 won’t just be a referendum on Trump’s performance as president, it will also be a referendum on the success of #MeToo – and it’s looking very promising.
Lucia Osborne-Crowley is a freelance journalist